More recent controversies are not in the public eye as much but are interesting to note because they raise interesting questions about the scope of state support for post-secondary education. Here in NB there are several small Christian universities. The only one of any size -- and, hence, the one around which controversy swirls -- is Crandall, a "private" Baptist university in Moncton, NB. Crandall is one of those institutions that, if it did not exist, someone would have to invent it. Both its opponents and proponents seem to desperately need it. Its opponents -- and I've addressed some matters relating to Crandall in the past -- see it as a discriminatory institution that is duplicitous (at best) in the perpetuation of homophobia. It is discriminatory - in that it maintains a faith test - that eliminates non-practicing Christians or people from other religious groups (say, Muslims or Jews) - as well as member of the LGBTQ communities and -- potentially -- those of us who support them -- from employment or education.
It proponents, of course, have a different view. They tend to argue that Crandall provides educational choice and that the state should not censor or limit educational choice. As I've tried to indicate before in this blog, I am not in favour of a religious means test as a condition of state support for such things as grants. I would not necessarily consider myself a proponent of Crandall University -- in fact, I've argued against their faith test and its theology in the past -- but I do feel that having the state impose religiously-based conditions for is support (that is, in the case of Crandall that it needs to support a specific religious point of view with regard to equality for gays and lesbians) is problematic and a matter of concern. I've also tried to argue that there might be far more ground than we generally believe to accommodate different religious views within the mainstream of Canadian institutions without, in any way, harming those institutions or lessening our commitments to equality (be it religious or with regard to LGBTQ).
This kind of discussion has been raised again regarding NB policies for free tuition because Crandall -- as a private institution -- is disqualified. The free tuition programme is intended to support so-called "public" post-secondary institutions (NBCC, Mt A, etc.). Hence, students at Crandall, because it is a private institution, do not qualify for the low-income free tuition programme. Crandall proponents -- including one of its administrators -- have expressed concern about this and tend to argue that this see this as discrimination. Crandall's students, they argue, should not be excluded from this programme simply because they are attending a Christian university. The Crandall spokespeople whose comments I have read have, in fact, approached this issue in a measured and balanced way. They are, in my view, involved in a bit of spin but the comments that I have read have been measured, logical and reasoned.
Not so, some of Crandall's other supporters who have used much more extreme language. They have mocked the current government (particularly but not exclusively its decision to create a Ministry of Celtic Affairs), accused it of lying about tax policy, and suggested that this free tuition policy amounts to an attack on religious freedom. They have organized a petition, brought it to Baptist churches to sign, and suggested that further attacks on religious might be forthcoming. Indeed, political pressure needs to be brought to bear on this government -- one chap at my church said that we need to show the government that "Christian votes count" -- potentially to the point of campaigning against the government so as to have it defeated.
This is a different question and begs important questions that I write about here because, I think, they go to heart of key issues in contemporary Canadian public life. These include (but are not limited to):
- Should the state fund institutions that do practice discrimination if that discrimination is deeply believed, say for religious reasons?
- Is religion -- and particularly Christianity -- under attack?
- Should the state modify its position with regard to religion, say removing the tax free status of religious institutions?
- Should private institutions be included in free tuition programmes?